Bookstores should make room on their shelves for Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) texts. They’ll need it. The MCSA accreditation’s popularity will surpass the MCSE’s.

If operating systems are to be rolled out every 18 months, which appears to be Microsoft’s goal, IT professionals will abandon the seven-exam MCSE track. It’s not that they’ve lost interest in a comprehensive certification. The costs, measured in time and money, are simply too high.

Even with the announcement that Microsoft certification retirements are being rescinded, it’s going to be hard to talk most network administrators, systems engineers, network technicians, and other IT professionals into taking the seven exams to earn an MCSE when they can prove themselves with an MCSA in four. Plus, if you’ve earned Network+ and A+ certification, or Server+ and A+, Microsoft will count that as your elective and you can earn an MCSA by passing only three exams.

Earning an MCSA will require that candidates prove a wide range of expertise on a platform. It’ll also demonstrate that if MCSAs run into an issue they don’t understand, they likely possess the wherewithal and knowledge to obtain and implement a solution. After all, you have to be self-motivated and trainable in order to pass four certification exams.

As a result, the MCSA is set to become the next big thing in IT certification. Here’s what it involves.

MCSA targets network administrators
Network administrators constitute one of the largest segments of IT professionals. Plus, many (including Microsoft) project that demand for network administrators will continue to increase over the coming years. It should come as no surprise, then, that this audience is the target of Microsoft’s new certification.

To earn an MCSA, IT professionals must demonstrate expertise implementing, managing, and troubleshooting existing networks and systems. Candidates are required to pass four exams, all of which are also offered in the MCSE track. Thus, the credibility of the MCSA exams will be instant.

To earn the MCSA, candidates must pass three core exams—a client operating system (OS) exam and two networking systems exams—as well as one elective. The client OS requirement can currently be met by passing the Win2K Pro or WinXP Pro exam.

The two networking exams require that a candidate pass one exam on Win2K Server, Windows.NET Server, or the Win2K accelerated exam (70-240). The other networking requirement is that the candidate pass Microsoft’s new 70-218, Managing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Environment (available January 2002), or a similar exam (70-278) on managing Windows.NET networks that is also forthcoming in 2002.

As far as electives go, candidates can choose among a host of Windows 2000/XP/.NET exams as well as Back Office product exams. As mentioned above, combinations of specific CompTIA certifications can also be substituted for the elective. This CompTIA elective option introduces a clever vendor-neutral component to the MCSA track.

Although the MCSA includes XP and .NET exams in addition to Win2K tests, keep in mind that you can choose to take core and elective exams on any of these platforms or even mix and match them. You can review Microsoft’s entire MCSA exam structure here.

If you have passed the Win2K Accelerated exam (70-240), it counts toward your two core exams for the MCSA and one of the electives. However, I’m not a big believer in free exams that you can take only once and that require four hours to complete.

Best of all, once you earn an MCSA, you can count all the tests toward an MCSE if you eventually decide to take your certification up to that level.

Eckel’s take
The demand for network administrators is going to continue to grow. Microsoft, understandably, is going to keep introducing new OSs every couple of years. It doesn’t make sense to me to continue grinding away toward an MCSE when you can prove essential and critical skills with an MCSA.

I believe others are going to agree. So much so that I won’t be surprised when MCSAs surpass MCSEs within two years.

What do you think about the MCSA option?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.